Saturday, April 24, 2010

a busman's holiday

When I arrived home last weekend I was surprised, in a Samuel Johnson 'dog walking on its hind legs' kind of way, to find that BB had cleaned the house. Not that it had been done well; but that it had been done at all!

It was great to be home. Before I came to Paris I was afraid I would love it so much I would never want to leave, but it transpires I'm a simple country girl at heart. I miss the mountains and the wide-open spaces ...

... and not having neighbours. I left my building here in Paris yesterday at the same time as my hobnailed-booted upstairs neighbour (who turns out to be a  Little Old Lady!) and found myself tailing her, trying to check out her footwear. I reckon she's a European size 36 so I'm going to send her a pair of soft slippers.

On Saturday the usual suspects turned up at Nainbo's for apéros and we watched with amusement as he went round the garden scattering grass seed, closely followed by La Blonde, scattering weedkiller. Bit of a communication problem going on there I think.

Everyone wanted to know about my course and after a lengthy discussion about recipes there was a long expectant pause, at the end of which I tried to say: "I'm going skiing tomorrow", but it came out all funny and sounded like: "Why don't you all come round for lunch tomorrow?"

So instead of hitting the slopes or just lounging in bed with my cats, a cup of green tea and a good cookery book, Sunday morning was spent in the kitchen.

Now that the frost's gone my leeks are ready for pulling up so we started with leeks gribiche - braised leeks smothered in a smooth sharp caper-laden vinaigrette with a generous handful of snipped chives. Then we had pot roasted rabbit with rosemary sage and lemon served with turned artichokes and roast potatoes with saffron, followed by home-made vanilla ice-cream. Miam.

Since I'm struggling to find time to blog, a friend suggested I sign up to Twitter, so you can follow me at

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

vegetable turning and nasty chefs

We're into week four and already a third of the way through the course - I can't believe it.

To give you some background info on the school: Le Cordon Bleu offers certificate courses in cuisine and patisserie with students progressing through basic, intermediate and superior levels, after which they gain Le Diplôme de Cuisine, Le Diplôme de Patisserie or Le Grand Diplôme (if you do both cuisine and patisserie at the same time). I enrolled for the basic cuisine course only (as did J and H) but we're loving it so much that the three of us are thinking of coming back in the autumn to do the intermediate course.

We had our first blip last week when we were set upon by 'Gordon Ramsay' Chef. We have nicknames for all the Chefs, so there's 'Mr Bean' Chef (our favourite, who looks like, er, Mr Bean), 'Blackberry' Chef (who plays on his Blackberry when he should be supervising us in practicals), 'Hot' Chef (no explanation needed), 'Short' Chef (ditto) - and now 'Gordon Ramsay' Chef. Not only is he thoroughly unpleasant in a shouting and bullying way but he's plainly never heard of sexual harassment in the workplace (maybe it's not against the law in France - I wouldn't be surprised) as evidenced by his unwelcome and unnecessary physical contact with female students. Hopefull we won't see too much of him because he's a patisserie chef.
We're on to stuffings and tournage de légumes (vegetable turning) now - when you spend an hour paring down a carrot into a small barrel shape with seven sides. It's very traditional and very French, but extremely slow and repetitive and Paris is full of restaurants where dishwashers and commis spend hours a day locked in this seven-sided-servitude hell.

I'm going back to Savoie on Friday for three days. I actually made a surprise flying visit at Easter - only it was me who got the surprise when I saw the state of the house, so BB's been warned. He's just called to say he's down to the last of the beef stew PC dinners "which is a result" - and I don't think he meant that in a kind way!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

puff pastry with leeks, poached eggs and albufera sauce

We had a nice civilized 12.30 p.m. start today - after our group photo at midday. In today's demonstration the Chef showed us how to make puff pastry with leeks and poached eggs with albufera sauce and pear and raspberry tarts with almond butter and an apricot glaze. We actually made the puff pastry in our last practical - or rather, we started it off. I've never made puff pastry before and I don't think I will, through choice, again because it's quite a lengthy process and it's very hard to source the main ingredient (even here in Paris!) - beurre sec ("dry" butter) - so called because it has a low moisture content and high fat content which helps to keep the flour from turning into a greasy mess.

You start off by making your basic pastry in the same way that you would choux pastry - by adding melted butter, water and salt to flour - then leaving to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes. After that you roll out the pastry in a cross shape and place a heart-stoppingly large pat of beurre sec in the middle and then fold and roll and fold, flip over and do the same all over again, six times - or six "turns", to give it it's technical term (resting in the fridge for 20 minutes after every two turns) . My Canadian friend J, says she only gives her puff pastry one turn - she jumps in her car, turns the key in the ignition and goes to the shop to buy it! She has a point though because we were all agreed that Chef's puff pastry wasn't so earth-shatteringly different to bought stuff - so why bother?

The leeks and poached eggs in puff pastry recipe was sublime. You gently cook julienne of leeks with a little bit of butter and water until there's no liquid left, add some cream and seasoning and fill your vol-au-vents with this mixture and a poached egg then drizzle with albufera sauce (reduced chicken stock, cream, lemon juice and brunoise of red pepper). I think this is one that I'll be cooking over and over again once I get home.

Big exciting day tomorrow. You know my favourite shop - kitchen shop heaven in Moutiers? - well tomorrow, J (who's lived here for more than three years and knows all the really cool places to go) is taking H (our Australian friend) and I to kitchen shop nirvana - more than four kitchen shops even bigger than the one in Moutiers on the same street. I shall be like a kid in a sweetie shop!